‘I loved the melodic effectiveness of hymns and the sound in church, with echo and reverberation, I found it very moving. And hymns to me are the ancestors of the pop song.’ Jamie Lee, of Salford’s M O N E Y. It’s this hymn like quality that shines brightly from the heart of each of the wondrous compositions on M O N E Y’s debut album The Shadow Of Heaven but rather than communal chorus, this is an affecting sermon to the complexity of being. Less a set of songs but a transcendental ‘experience’, that pierces emotively, dazzles instrumentally and gazes wide eyed at the vast night sky and asks what it’s all about….
A record of sharply pointed contrasts, light and darkness, innocence and bitter experience, drawn on a intricate canvas of reverb drenched guitars, dappling sensuous keys, rumbling percussive loops that hark back to the spiritual sound of early Verve and fractured landscapes of Sigur Ros. It’s Lee’s vocals that pour forth like light through the vestry windows, at once angelic and the next wounded and exposing a storm clouds heavy with the weight of the human condition. Opening with the celestial majesty of existential anthem ‘So Long (God is Dead)’ that pirouettes elegantly upon Lee’s trembling falsetto at first naked and unabashed before unfurling into a glorious sweep lifted high on shoulders by chanted backings and tumorous licks, it’s startlingly possesses the glory of peak-era Talk Talk.
The clanging sweeps of “Who’s going to love you now?‘ may appear on the surface to be similar in tone to a Coldplay harmony swoop, but these primal vocal harmonic waves punctured by wounded refrain of ‘whose gonna love you now?’ is spellbindingly wonderful and instead caries the harmonic power and nous of the first Guillemots album. The ominous psychedelic twitches and rumbling percussion ‘Bluebell Fields’ opens flower like with the power of the early Verve records hazily recalling the likes of ‘A Man Called Sun’, while Lee’s wide eyed vocals ache upon these utterly enchanting couplets.
The bass and soaring vocal interplay of ‘Letter To Yesterday’ is redolent of the early work of U2 minus the pomp and circumstance, Lee’s primal bare chested bearing of witness to the past through his chant-like repetition of ‘oh there’s blood’ is haunting…. ‘If the lord ain’t god he’s something clever’ sings Lee on album centre piece ‘Hold Me Forever’ an impassioned plea for affection and the comfort it brings, it also casts light on the conflicted view of god that ripples throughout this record. Is he the Saviour? Or in the case of the sorrowful loneliness of ‘Cruelty of Godliness’ scornful father? Or does he even exist? When we die is it the end or the beginning? It’s this never ending wrestle that offers this album’s most enlightened passages.‘We suffer through wide-eyed loneliness’ sings Lee on the five minute epic of the title track, that ripples with this conflicted pain and madness of being human and ultimately alone.
‘Black’ closer a torch song of piano and voice, with such few brush strokes Lee stares fore square into the dark and paints a vividly heartbreaking widescreen picture of night life from Dakota to Manchester, that vast awe inspiring dawn. Recounting the nightmarish shallowness of modern life(‘out in that big wide ocean kids are fucking in cars /screaming in the chapels and the bars/and laughing in the bars/it’s just some distraction that’s all it is.’ ) and staring at the human grave.
Perhaps because The Shadow Of Heaven isn’t an easy listen, isn’t crammed with immediate FM hits but instead compositions that require repeated plays to reveal their true stature, some may dismiss it as overblown. But the themes written through the spine of this disc: its restless questioning, its a recognition that are lives are spent carrying the unbearable lightness of being are undeniably ambitious. Heaven and hell where will we end up?Or when it ends will it just go dark? The Shadow Of Heaven isn’t just one of the débuts of the year it’s a record that could make you start to question your own existence. The sound of the lofty thoughts of man for wide-open hearts.